Sorry for the absence…but I didn’t want to entrust my audience to just anyone…

Just because you don’t have the time or inclination to write doesn’t mean you can make a mockery of your audience by giving them anything to read instead.

Hey, it’s been a long time since you’ve written anything, we’re missing you“. How many times have I heard this remark from friends or acquaintances lately, and the reason is simple enough?

Social fatigue and bullshit fatigue

A first reason, as simple as it is obvious, is that over the last two years I’ve been busy enough with my work not to feel like thining too much about it in my spare time. But not only… I’ve been working on some fascinating subjects that I never thought I’d have to face one day, but if it’s been fascinating to do, I can’t say it’s been very fascinating to tell.

Of course, I’ve come away with experiences that, once put into perspective, will feed into what I write here, but first I’ll have to take the time to step back and put things into perspective.

But that’s not all.

Without wishing to play the veteran, I don’t really like the Web we’re offered any more.

Facebook… is still Facebook, and in the end it’s the platform that disappoints me the least, because I’ve never expected anything from it.

Twitter (er…X) has become a no-go area, and when I think back to the days when it was a first-rate source of information and exchange, I realize that time has really flown by since then.

As for Linkedin, whose shortcomings I had already pointed out some time ago, it’s not getting any better. Between those who behave as they do on Facebook, all those who have something to sell and do so in the worst possible way, and those who fall into a navel-gazing discourse where they put themselves forward by telling how all the hardships they’ve been through have made them great people (and therefore whose products and services you should buy), it’s become stinking. Once again, it’s a long way from the days when people shone on this site for their ability to feed other people’s thoughts, rather than for their permanent, poorly-crafted, navel-gazing self-promotion, embellished with emojis that turn their posts into a Christmas garland that gives me the impression of a childish personality.

In fact, one day I’ll write at greater length on the subject of Linkedin, but that’s not what I’m here for.

And then there’s my blog, a place I have full control over. I can’t thank my friend Michelle Blanc enough, who, as long as 20 years ago, kept repeating that, despite the proliferation of platforms and networks, we should keep our content (even if I don’t like that term) at home, in a space we control.

But then, as I said, there was a period when I had neither the time nor the inclination to write (or rather, I preferred to write elsewhere on other subjects, as a sort of breath of fresh air).

AI as a remedy for lack of desire and laziness

The good thing about being surrounded by well-meaning people is that they always have a solution to your problems (which I prefer to those who find problems with every solution).

So the solution was quickly found: AI!

You find a topic, Chat GPT will write the article, and that way you’ll continue to occupy the field by publishing even if you’re busy with something else“.

Are you serious? Do you know me?

Please note: this is not an anti-IA diatribe. I’m aware of its value, what it brings us today and what it can bring us tomorrow. But I’m also aware of some of its limitations (at least today), and I have a minimum of ethics when it comes to the relationship of trust that must exist between a reader and the author of what he or she reads, especially in these times when, between fake news and “clickbait” content, the web, initially conceived as a tool for collective intelligence, is becoming an open-air dumping ground for a kind of collective mediocrity.

AI doesn’t think, it learns

The reasoning is simple enough. Can an AI write a didactic article on a subject? Of course it can, since it feeds on what we’ve given it to learn. So it can, provided we’ve given it quality sources.

But things get more complicated when you’re not content to simply explain, but want to provide an angle of reflection and a point of view.

Can an AI deduce from what I’ve written in the past on certain subjects what I’ll write one day on others, and what I’ll think of them? I doubt it. Now we’re getting into something that, if not intimate, is at least personal.

Sometimes when I tackle a subject, I don’t know myself where my thoughts will lead me once I’ve looked at them from all angles, and I find it hard to believe that an AI will know before I do.

So yes, an AI can occupy the space for me. That’s why I hate the notion of content, preferring instead information or reflection.

Content is defined in relation to a container. But with the web, compared to the old ways of transmitting information, the container is infinite, so filling it implies quantity, which does little to replace quality, transforming information producers into content producers, the Sisyphus of filling the web.

On the other hand, can an AI think for me in the same way I would? No. It can fill space, but not contribute to the advancement of thought.

Humans talking to humans

Another pro-AI argument: “It’ll generate great texts, great for SEO“.

Ah yes, that’s true…

I’ve always watched with a suspicious eye this injunction to learn to “write for the web”. Of course, there are things you need to know to adapt your format to the expectations of your audience, which isn’t the same as for a paper magazine, for example, but it never seemed to me that people who wrote extremely long posts were less interesting and gained less recognition than others.

At most, they let others shine, those who exegete their articles to make their thoughts digestible by others.

But writing for the Web also means thinking about referencing, i.e. the robots that will read you and decide how your prose will appear in search engines.

But don’t we call this evolution of the web the “social web“? An Internet that brings people together and connects them on the basis of what they let others know about them, and therefore what they think? An Internet based on trust?

So to bring humans together, let’s ask them to write for robots. To create trust, let’s ask them to standardize their writing, to fit into a mold, to all resemble each other in form and content.

The result of all this we all know: catchy headlines that teach nothing and lead to content written to be referenced and with no other ambition than to generate views and clicks, not to inform their readers because there’s no information, articles that manage to say nothing because they’re all hot air. And, of course, a writing style that’s recognizable everywhere…you can easily guess why.

I know that in the past this has been a subject of sometimes heated discussion but, even if it means paying a certain price in terms of audience and referencing, I’ve always written what I wanted to write, the way I wanted to write it, for humans who wanted to read it. Not for robots crawling it for SEO purposes.

In short, I could have entrusted my audience to an AI, but I preferred to take the risk of losing it rather than commit myself to a line which, for me, is a lack of respect.

The Humansubstance collective

If AI didn’t convince me to keep this blog artificially alive during this break, it was the spark that made me come back to it sooner than expected.

I was thinking about it, but I was missing a spark, and it’s thanks to AI that it came. Thanks to, not because of: it was the subject that made certain people aware of the issue, and it was a human who woke me up.

In this case, one of my “blogging companions” from the early days, in the person of Hervé Kabla.

Hey, would you like to join the 100% human initiative launched by Yann (Gourvenec) and David Fayon?”

What’s it all about? The Humansubstance collective brings together bloggers committed to producing content written by humans, for humans, and adhering to a charter:

This charter is not an indictment of Artificial Intelligence, of which some of the members of this collective have been or still are players, but a guide to good conduct with a view to the reasoned use of these tools. Members of the charter undertake to display the collective’s logo on their respective sites or blogs, and to comply with the following articles. Further to certain comments made to us, let us also make it clear that this charter does not mean either that humans are always “intelligent”, a term that should be defined, which is more difficult than it seems, nor that they are superior to other species, but that they must master the machines they create or use and avoid any anthropomorphism towards them, which is an open door to the loss of reason.

It begins with a manifesto:

Generative AI tools have limits

  • They’re just programs: AI tools are not people; you can’t say “he/she” when talking about them;
  • The starting corpus: These tools exploit multiple data sets (texts, images, scrapped content) and databases processed by statistical methods;
  • The absence of reflection: these programs work by associating words according to probabilistic rules. There is no logical reasoning behind the results provided by these tools. Generative AIs produce automatic texts, a kind of exquisite corpse, with no thought process, based on probabilities. These contents have only the appearance of a substance;
  • The absence of human sensitivity and emotion.
  • The absence of ethics: some of these tools do not respect ethics, have been developed in countries where modern slavery is practiced*, and do not respect the rights in force. When they do respect ethics, they are neither transparent nor explicit.

The members of this collective

  • are responsible for their choices, their thoughts and their writings.

AI tools are not responsible for anything

  • content editors are responsible for everything.

The charter follows.

The charter for 100% human content

Our content is created for humans

  • not for machines
  • not primarily designed to please search engines (SEO)
  • we distinguish between text and images. This charter applies essentially to textual content (blog articles, websites, white papers, newsletters, etc.).

The articles on our websites are written by 100% human intelligences

  • clearly identified by their biographies

When we use generative AI tools to produce images

  • we disclose this transparently

All the information we produce is verified, cross-checked

  • cross-checked, referenced and sourced.

This charter owes absolutely nothing to ChatGPT other than its inspiration to do just the opposite.

You’ll also find a list of all the authors who have signed up to the charter. If you’re looking for a list of sites where you’ll find fresh, original thoughts, this is a good place to start.

Homemade is good

Those who eat with me know that when it comes to choosing a restaurant I’m adamant about the “fait maison (home-made)” label, which is very restrictive in France. If I’m going to eat reheated tinned food, I’d rather cook at home, because I don’t see the value of the chef, and I feel that by doing so he’s showing a lack of respect for his customers.

It’s the same for the food that’s supposed to nourish my thoughts and reflections: I’d always rather read a human being, even an imperfect one, than eat canned information.

I don’t know if this collective will become to writing and publishing on the web what the Maitres Restaurateurs are, in France, to homemade food, but we’re going to try in our small way to contribute to a quality web, written by humans for humans. People who respect their readers.

And so, after a salutary break, this blog is up and running again. Thank you Hervé for the spark.

Anyway, I hope you’ll excuse me for this absence, I didn’t want to entrust you to anyone or anything.

Image : writing robot by kung_tom via Shuttertsock

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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